Dr. Deran R. Whitney has been named the Region II Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS). He was one of eight regional finalists considered for the organization’s state-wide recognition.
Region II encompasses the counties of Accomack, Isle of Wight, James City, Northampton, Southampton and York, and the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Williamsburg.
Dr. Whitney has been Superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools since 2011. Through partnerships with families and the community, Dr. Whitney strives for all students to become life-long learners equipped with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to succeed as productive citizens in a local, national and global society.
“Dr. Whitney has worked diligently to make Suffolk Public Schools a great institution for educating our students,” said Dr. Michael Debranski, Chairman of the Suffolk School Board. “He is an individual that incorporates information and advice to promote our trademark – Every Child a Star … Together, We Help Them Shine!”
“I am very humbled to be able to represent the 15 school Divisions in Region II,” added Dr. Whitney. “Serving as superintendent in Suffolk is an honor with so many dedicated and committed teachers and staff members. I feel privileged to serve in a community where the support for education is so very evident.”
Starting as an elementary school teacher and principal before assuming division-wide responsibilities in elementary education and K-12 instruction, Dr. Whitney has served Suffolk Public Schools for 18 years.
During that time, Dr. Whitney has strengthened early childhood education programs, enhanced professional development, reshaped the Leadership Academy for Potential Principals, and helped start an International Baccalaureate program. As a champion of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives, he initiated the start of two high school focus programs – one in engineering and another in biomedical sciences.
In recent years, Dr. Whitney has also:
- Spearheaded a City-Wide College & Career Readiness Fair, which offered middle and high school students and parents a series of workshops on preparing for high school, planning for college, and transitioning to the workforce.
- Revived the staff recognition program – now called the Superintendent’s Star Awards – which honors each semester both the top-scoring honorees at a reception as well as city-wide winners for both support staff and instructional staff;
- Implemented recommendations of a comprehensive compensation and pay study, which provided teachers their first pay raise or step increase in 5 years, which increased teacher retention. Likewise, the implementation brought salaries for SPS employees in line with like positions in similar and surrounding organizations;
- Opened a new elementary school in 2014 in the southern part of the city;
- Negotiated the construction of a new elementary school and new middle school in the city’s fast-growing northern end to open in 2018.
Most recently, Dr. Whitney demonstrated his strong leadership for learning with the award-winning elementary summer program called Learning and Enrichment for Academic Progress (LEAP), which is designed specifically to prevent “summer slide” for students with low socioeconomic status. LEAP kicked off in 2015 as a collaborative, community-based approach between the school district, United Way’s United for Children campaign, and more than 20 other funding partners and service providers. LEAP expanded the remedial summer school from a 4-week half-day program to an 8-week full-day program that combined academics and enrichment. Students were offered classes in foreign language, martial arts, cooking, woodworking, and more. The program also recognized that physical and behavioral health is critical to children’s academic success, and provided physical fitness assessments, screenings in hearing, vision and oral health, and coping strategies to help with such distractions as bullying.
Dr. Whitney was also applauded for his communication skills, which have brought together diverse members of the community to support Suffolk Public Schools. Stakeholders include teachers, support staff, parents and students, as well as government and business leaders. Through Superintendent’s advisory councils, stakeholder opinion surveys, and his Key Communicators Network, he both shares the division’s successes and challenges and listens to constituent concerns and ideas.
Like other school divisions across the United States and Virginia, Suffolk Public Schools has also unveiled new evaluation processes for teachers and principals that include student growth as a component. The new approach has also demonstrated improved effectiveness because it focuses on providing quality feedback throughout the assessment and observation stages.
Suffolk Public Schools has also faced budget cuts like others across the country and state. Dr. Whitney has said he is “compelled to focus on two things: maintaining a quality education for our students and ensuring all stakeholders understand the impact reduced funding may have on our school division.” In recent years, cost-savings strategies relied on technology by reducing print and offering parents information online, such as teacher gradebooks, attendance, handbooks, and school flyers. Web-based meetings and professional development sessions reduced the cost of travel reimbursement.
Dr. Whitney added: “As we saw the need to eliminate positions from our budget, we did this through attrition, however; I wanted to minimize the impact on our students so we focused on replacing full-time paraprofessional and or custodian, with two part-time positions. This was cost effective by eliminating benefits yet allowed, in some cases, more human resources for our students and schools.”
Besides his leadership of Suffolk Public Schools, Dr. Whitney is also an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University, and has previously been an adjunct profession at the University of Virginia. He is Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity chapter education director, a member at Canaan Baptist Church, the husband of an elementary school reading specialist, and the father of a rising junior at Radford University.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University, his master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and his doctorate degree in education leadership & policy studies from Virginia Tech.
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